Maria Colby arrived for her shift at precisely
6:45 a.m. She took off her coat and hat and placed them in her locker. She double checked the whiteness of her uniform trousers and sneakers and smoothed the nylon-blend scrub
top with Mickey and Minnie Mouse images all over it. She washed her hands thoroughly
at one of the lavs, checked her French braid and makeup in the mirror, grabbed her purse and headed out to the second floor
nurse’s station. Nancy Franklin had arrived a moment ahead of her and was
checking med lists and night reports with Claudia and Bess, the outgoing night shift RNs.
Maria walked over to where they were standing, shoved her purse in a file drawer, and greeted her colleagues, listening
to the shift-change banter and catch-up instructions before grabbing two styro cups to pour fresh, fragrant coffee for herself
After Claudia and Bess checked out, Maria
and Nancy passed on all pertinent information to the gathering group of LPNs, Physicians’ Assistants and orderlies who
had checked in as day shift got itself together and up and running. There was
nothing new or shocking to report today; no new admissions yet this morning, and no one had expired during the previous night. Their subordinates received their assignments and scattered to the first order of
the day: early meds and special instructions for appointments, PT, surgeries,
hydro and the like. Then the chaos of breakfast!
In the wards, patients were waking up,
doing morning ablutions and beginning to bleed into the hallways for another day of pacing, wheeling, limping, being pushed
and pulled and guided; most bitching heatedly about one thing or another. Actually,
the whole scenario marked the beginning of a very normal day for the residents of the second floor.
Across from the nurse’s station,
the stairway door beside the bank of elevators was being maneuvered open by a broad shoulder, and Billy Travis, just finishing
his shift, emerged with a thump. Travis walked across to the counter where his
fiancÚ and Maria Colby were still working at reviewing night shift’s notes for addition to daytime charts and checking
Attending’s reports. Nancy looked up and saw him and smiled widely. “Hi, Sweetie,” she said. “You look tired.”
Maria also, looked up from their conversation
and smiled. “G’Morning, Big Guy!
Would you like a cup of coffee? It’s fresh, and you look like you
could use it.”
“Ahhh … Maria … I’d
shine your shoes for a month for a cup of that coffee. It smells wonderful, and
my ‘you-know-what’ is draggin’ my tracks shut.”
She was pouring a tall cup as he spoke,
smiling at his words. “That’s a sorry old joke, Mister Travis. Shining sneakers is a lost cause, and your ‘you-know-what’ has been completely
out of the running, since Nance came along! Do you give back rubs instead?” She handed the coffee cup into his waiting hands.
“Yup,” he answered. “Just like me! I have
been known to give back rubs to die for, though.” He took a sip of the
hot brew and sighed in satisfaction, then leaned across the counter to plant a chaste kiss on his pretty girlfriend’s
forehead. “I need to talk to you guys about something.”
They both paused what they were doing to
look at him, both all ears. “What’s up?” Maria asked.
“The boys in room 220. I took a sneak down here last night during my lunch break to see how they’re making out … Jimmy’s
brother and all … and I find them both in the dayroom. Roger was half asleep
in his wheelchair and Jules was getting ready to stretch out on the settee. Seems
the other two idiots in their room keep giving them a hard time about being gay … and they were trying to avoid a confrontation,
I guess. I told them to go ahead and go back to their room and let me know if
they ran into anymore crap. I went back and told the two idiots the same thing. I just thought I’d let you two know what’s going on in case the ‘Brain
Dead Brothers’ decided not to take my ‘advice’.”
shook her head angrily. “The boys haven’t said a thing as far as
I know.” She looked across at her supervisor. “Have you heard anything?” Then she shook her
head again. “No, of course you haven’t, or you’d have told
Maria corroborated Nancy’s statement with the shake of her own head and a pair of angrily raised eyebrows. “No one from night shift said anything,” she agreed. “Are the boys afraid to speak up? Poor little Roger
couldn’t do much against either of them if they tried to hurt him. I’m
not sure about Julie … but he’s not much bigger, and certainly not any stronger.
They’re both still in sad shape from living on the streets.”
“That’s what I thought,”
Billy said. “I think they were afraid to open their mouths before I talked
to them last night. I also think they waited until after bed check before they
went out to the dayroom, in case anyone wanted to know why they weren’t in bed.
Nobody on night shift knew they weren’t there.”
“Well, I’ll take care of this
crap real quick, Billy. Thanks for the heads up.
Pook and Joe are both a pain where a pill can’t reach anyhow, if you know what I mean. Neither one of them is really sick anymore. As soon as Pook’s
blood pressure comes under control, he can be discharged. Probably in a few days. Joe may be here awhile yet. The foot
infection from his diabetes needs to be kept a close watch on, or he’s going to lose it.
But he’s not so sick that I can’t give him royal hell …”
Maria rolled her eyes and tossed her head angrily again and reached over
to make a notation on both men’s charts. “There! Now everybody on all shifts will be aware of their crap. Trust
me, it won’t happen again.”
“Thanks,” Billy said. “I appreciate that. “Try
not to make a big deal of it to Jimmy Wilson, okay? He’s worried enough
about his brother. And he already has another big, tall, skinny millstone hangin’
around his neck!” Billy grinned.
“I don’t have to mention any names, right?”
Both women smiled in understanding. Nancy reached across
the counter and upward to touch her fiancÚ’s cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart. Now get your big, handsome carcass back home and
into the sack, okay?”
Billy Travis took her tiny hand into both
his huge paws and kissed it gently. “I’m gonna do just that,”
he said. “See you when you get home.” He let her hand fall from his and turned to go. “See
“’Bye Big Guy!” They echoed, but by then he was gone.
Both women finished their coffee, turned
off the machine, threw their cups in the garbage and began their day in earnest.
Jules LeBeque was not the fragile flower
that his outward appearance seemed to suggest. His small bone structure and diminutive
stature hid a wiry body and taut little muscles that could certainly do their share in “pulling his weight”, however
one chose to interpret that phrase. At the moment, he was far below par, but
that would correct itself in only a matter of time. Due to Roger’s illness,
their luck had been less than perfect for quite some time.
Jules had been born of wealthy parents;
influential people whose ancestors had been refugees of the disastrous earthquake in the late 1600s which destroyed much of
the city of Port Royal.
These people witnessed the birth of Kingston from the
after-math of tragedy, and were among the first to begin an outward expansion and move their family businesses to the rich
farmlands in the north, on the plains of Liguanea.
The farm had passed down through
the generations until finally it fell into the hands of Jules’ father, a lazy ne’er-do-well. Jaque LeBeque was an over-indulged only child and drunkard who beat his wife and abused his children. His excesses finally ran the family business into the ground. Jules’ only sibling, an older sister named Freda, managed to marry well and escape to Discovery Bay at the
age of eighteen.
Jules, not so lucky, and four years younger,
landed on the streets of Kingston a month after his fifteenth
birthday. There he was quickly made the darling of an underground group of clandestine
men who preyed on young beautiful boys. These degenerates made easy money
selling his graceful body to questionable clients. The shadowy transients they
served were forever on the prowl for sexual favors as perverted as their predatory lifestyles.
Jules bided his time and waited for his
chance. One midnight during a heavy rainstorm, he ran for it. He hid during the day and traveled at night. A steamer out
of Montego Bay employed a purser with questionable tastes, and Jules managed to talk his way on board as one of five children of
a rich British family on their way home from holiday. His skin tone matched quite
well, and his English accent was flawless. At the mid point of the voyage, he
jumped ship at the entrance to New York Harbor
and had lived on the streets of America
At least, that was the story he related
to Roger Wilson when they met in Cheyenne, Wyoming
many years later.
Phil Wilson hated his German-Jewish
heritage. He didn’t know why; he just hated it! Very early on, he had shied away from everything to do with that faith.
“God stuff!” When his grandfather died, he watched his mother
covering up all the mirrors and thought: *These people are not right in the head!*
When his cousin got married, he
saw no sense in smashing perfectly good crystal goblets to smithereens. *They’re
all nuts!* By the time he was nine,
he had flushed five yarmulkes down the toilet. Plugged up the plumbing the last
time. That’s how his mother found out.
She yelled at him and beat his ass with a yardstick, then went upstairs and cried over it. When his father came home from work, he yelled at his mother for crying and she screamed at him for yelling. She called him a “Putz”. He
called her a “Schmuck”.
His brother Jimmy was scandalized. Jimmy was such a good boy. Quiet and
studious. But Jimmy never ratted him out.
Jimmy understood, and he was the only one who called him “Roger”.
Jimmy was two years older. Their brother Tommy was the family security
guard. He would have ratted out his own grandmother for putting her false teeth
on the corner of the sink. Roger and Jimmy snuck around behind Tommy’s
back with everything they did. Tommy was a lot older than they were. He was eighteen. Too close to being a grown-up to be trusted.
When he was nine-and-a-half, Philip
found out he had polio. Infantile Paralysis.
The muscles in his legs turned to concrete and he could not stand, he could not walk, he could not even crawl. He screamed from the pain until his throat was raw, and then he screamed some more.
He was in the hospital for a month. The
drugs they gave him to stop the pain were highly addictive, and they allowed him only small amounts. His parents coddled him, spoiled him. Indulged him. He got used to it, but the meds kind of screwed up puberty for him later on. You could get too much of a good thing!
Doctors, nurses and his parents, spent
hours and hours bending his legs … and straightening. Bending and straightening. He had to take hot baths, as many as four times a day.
The heat helped, but he was still in pain. The pills they gave him were yucky. He spit them all out the
window beside his bed. Then the neighbor’s yappy little dog, which always
wandered into the Wilson’s yard to take a shit, died
suddenly one day. Philip quickly figured out why, but it was a mystery to everyone
else. The neighbors got another dog that yapped if the leaves rustled. It also took its dumps in the Wilson’s
yard. It died too. The neighbors didn’t get another one. Instead, they soon moved away. Sometimes Philip snickered into his armpit after he spit another pill out
the window. Nobody ever found any of them.
Or if they did, they never told. No more yappy little dogs moved into
He hated the heavy metal braces on his
legs with a purple passion.
He did not pray to God for divine intervention
in getting well. He cursed every God which had ever sprung forth from some idiot’s
imagination, and swore on a Gentile’s bible, (how insane was that??) that he was through with religion forever! His legs got better eventually, but he knew that no “God” had had anything
to do with it. His parents had walloped the hell out of his stiffness and pain,
and it finally gave up and went away to find some other little kid to torture. At
first he was in a wheelchair for months. Then he walked with braces and crutches
for months, and with braces and arm canes for more months, and a cane with no braces for even longer. Then, finally, he was well. He limped slightly after that,
but the worst of it was over. Philip had just turned twelve.
On his thirteenth birthday they expected
him to do a Bar Mitzvah. On a Saturday morning, for Christ’s sake! (He always caught hell for saying “Christ”, and caught hell for saying
“hell”. Injustices for kids were legion!) Saturday mornings were sacred to thirteen-year-olds! Instead, he broke into his savings bank, stuffed fifty dollars into a jeans pocket
and went to the Bronx Zoo by bus with Meeko, a colored friend who went to a Baptist church somewhere on another block. *Happy Birthday to me!* Philip hadn’t studied any of that boring Bar Mitzvah shit they wanted him to memorize anyhow. He’d put all the literature in the burner barrel out back. Lit it and ran! Philip loved sneakery and excitement; the
more dangerous, the better.
His parents were frantic. Their son was missing and they called the cops. Philip and
Meeko came home from the zoo to see about a dozen squad cars lining the street. “What’s
up?” They asked one of the cops.
“Who are you?” A cop asked suspiciously.
“I’m Roger,” Philip said.
“I’m Meeko. Somebody rob the candy store?”
He got his ass whopped for that incident. But after that, everyone left him alone where religion was concerned. Except that Tom kept calling him a shiksa. He clammed up and did not dignify the insult with a reply. It
pissed Tom off, and he clammed up too.
Philip finished high school and went to
college. He thereafter insisted on being called “Roger”. He
received a B. S. in Education. He straightened up some during his college years. He never “got religion”, but neither did he continue to decry the beliefs
of anyone else. He was different, but he still did not understand what that difference
was. He preferred the company of men to that of women. It drove him crazy. He enlisted in the Air Force and took
OCS training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. There he met men he liked very much and did not have to associate with women if he
didn’t want to. He didn’t want to.
His permanent assignment was Francis E.
Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was a training base, and he met someone special.
When he got the flu and didn’t show up for duty one morning, an Air Police Sergeant found him naked on the floor
of his quarters.
A photograph of his naked boyfriend was
found next to him on the floor. Questions were asked, and that was the beginning
of the end. Second Lt. Wilson never made First Lieutenant!
Roger took a job as a short-order cook
at The Owl Inn in Cheyenne.
Old timers used to call the place “The Dirty Bird”. The Air
Force used it as a hangout.
It was there he met Jules LeBeque.
It was a match made … somewhere. Definitely not heaven!
James used his own key to unlock Gregg’s
front door. He let himself into the entryway, then moved to the darkened living
room and stood still until his eyes became adjusted to the gloom. A quiet voice
called out to him softly.
“Over here …”
House was on the couch. He was smoking one of his smelly cigars and … surprise … no booze. He had a can of Pepsi in his other hand. He was wearing sweat
pants. Grey ones, not blue like Wilson’s,
and a plain white tee shirt. His left leg was cocked against the back of the
couch and there was a bed pillow beneath his right knee.
walked across and sat down at the opposite end of the couch. He placed a hand
casually on top of House’s bare foot. “Hurt?”
Gregg nodded; a haze of shifting shadows
in the half-light. “Some. Better
than it was, I guess.” Which meant it had hurt like hell earlier.
“You should have said something. I could have brought the moist pad …”
“Me too. I got it for you, you know.”
A comfortable silence curled around them
for a time. Just the quiet. No
TV, no stereo, no traffic sounds. Wilson
could smell the faint scent of the cigar. Fading.
House had let it go out in deference to his friend who didn’t care for them much.
“Are there more Pepsis in the fridge?” Wilson asked.
“Yeah. Help yourself.”
“Thanks.” Wilson got up, removed his coat, kicked
off his moccasins and padded silently to the kitchen. He came back presently
and they heard the crack of the can popping open in the stark quiet. He sat down
again at the end of the sofa and put his cold, wet hand back on the top of House’s foot.
Gregg grunted, but didn’t move. Wilson reached
his thumb beneath the arch and began to work the muscles on the sole of House’s foot.
“Your feet stink!”
House sighed. “Ahh … they do not!”
“Oh yeah! They do! Feel good?”
“Yeah … but you’re full
of shit. I just had a shower. ”
drank his soda and continued to massage House’s foot with his thumb, but he was smiling inside. The silence stretched comfortably, like a lullaby between them.
Finally, Wilson asked, “What’s wrong? You
sounded a little ‘down’ awhile ago.”
“I’m not sure ‘down’
is what I am.”
“More like … ‘spooked’
… if that makes any sense.”
“Spooked about ‘the boys’.”
“You mean Rodge and Jules?”
“You’re going to have to give
me more than that.”
“I keep getting this chill in the
marrow of my bones. Something is off … and I don’t know what it is. You know how I get when there’s a mystery.”
“Oh yeah. I do. What bothers you most?” Already Wilson was asking questions. Helping him dig.
“There’s a sense of danger
I can feel. Something is off … like I said … but I can’t put
my finger on it. Something is warning me that you’re going to get hurt. I don’t want that.”
“I think you’re wrong, House. I think you’re nervous about these huge changes in our lives. It’s been like an irresistible force pushing up against an immovable object. Please don’t worry. It’ll be fine. Once I get Roger discharged and get the guys out on Ridge
Road, some of it will ease up … and maybe we can figure out what’s going on between
“I hope you’re the one who’s
right this time, Buckaroo. I’m just telling you …”
“I know. But it’ll be okay. Look … I’m tired. Can we go to bed? I’d like to hold
you if you’ll let me.”
“I’ll let you. I’m tired too. It’s been a weird week. My leg hurts.”
They settled into bed together, House on
his left side, Wilson spooned up against him. It was 1:00 a.m.
“I have a mission tomorrow. Do you think you’ll be up to driving from downtown to Ridge Road?”
“Probably. What’s up?”
“I’ll tell you in the morning. Go to sleep, House.”
They both did.